Review – musicAeterna in Salzburg
Currentzis, the snake charmer
08/17/2022 by Bernhard Neuhoff
How does an orchestra from St. Petersburg currently come to Salzburg? By bus to Helsinki, from there by plane. The musicAeterna Orchestra, founded and directed by Teodor Currentzis, traveled to Salzburg. It is controversial because it is sponsored by the Russian regime. Yesterday, Currentzis conducted an unusual program in the Grosses Festspielhaus: he confronted the baroque and modern with works by Dmitri Shostakovich and Henry Purcell.
Image source: © Anton Zavyalov
It has never been easy with Teodor Currentzis: he has always had fascinating and very unsympathetic sides. The artistic result was and is often fascinating, the egocentric claim to power, which is also expressed in his art of conducting, very unsympathetic. To put it positively: Currentzis is a charismatic person, to put it negatively: he has the demeanor of a guru.
Sponsored by Putin’s money
God knows it hasn’t gotten any easier with Currentzis since the brutal war of aggression in Ukraine. He is Greek but was educated in Russia. His dedicated ensembles, choir and orchestra from St. Petersburg-based musicAeterna are sponsored by Putin’s money: VTB Bank, largely owned by the Russian state and on the EU sanctions list, is one of the most important financier. With the support of Gazprom, both ensembles tour Russia. The Salzburg Festival also benefits indirectly from Putin’s art sponsorship – and the concert last night, so does everyone in the audience.
Currentzis is silent on the war
A dilemma – because the families of the musicians are attached, the orchestra can’t just go over to the West. Currentzis is silent on the war. The Salzburg Festival winds its way through, you stay in defensive mode instead of naming the contradictions on the offensive. Art and morality, art and politics, in other words: art and the rest of life are not the same and yet they can only be separated temporarily. And you have to, temporarily, because otherwise you won’t get any clarity in this difficult situation.
English early baroque and Russian modernism
Musically, yesterday evening was excellent. If only because Currentzis and his orchestra have such an idiomatic command of two stylistically very different works: Henry Purcell, English early baroque, and Dmitrij Shostakovich, Russian modernism. Two languages centuries and worlds apart. Both Purcell and Shostakovich tell of death: in the 14th symphony, which is actually a song cycle, Shostakovich set poems to music that revolve around death, the Russian word Smrt, death, is omnipresent. In “Dido and Aeneas”, the short opera by Henry Purcell, Dido dies a kind of love death because she is abandoned by her lover.
abysses of the soul of the 20th century
With Shostakovich, the strings penetrate the depths of the soul of the 20th century: panic and sarcasm, unworldly sadness – the two phenomenal vocal soloists Nadezhda Pavlova and Matthias Goerne explore an oppressive but also magically attractive emotional world. And Currentzis and his orchestra perform with a precision and emotional intensity that captivates every second.
With all the waters of historical performance practice
Kate Lindsey as Dido | Image Source: Rosetta Greek
After the break, the Purcell didn’t succeed quite as convincingly. The orchestra, which has been transformed into an early music combo, uses all the trappings of historical performance practice, but Currentzis actually does his thing. He also goes to extremes with Purcell, sometimes barely audible, then rocking and stomping again. The MusicAeterna Choir is outstanding – and the soloists are also excellent: Kate Lindsey sings the Dido in a somewhat breathy and very dark sound. Right from the start, this voice is not quite from this world, very individual in timbre and sometimes a bit too ethereal, but very touching. Also great is the striking Konstantin Krimmel’s Aeneas and Nuria Real’s compassionate Belinda.
Discussion about Currentzis will continue
Currentzis sometimes plays the snake charmer, sometimes the cheerleader. It’s engaging, but sometimes laid on thick. Purcell’s music needs naturalness and easy swing that doesn’t have to sound so woodcut-like. What is unsympathetic is the fast, already governess-like way in which Currentzis directs the singers, they don’t really need a prompter. Still, there aren’t many conductors who have as much coherent things to say about music that is so far apart as Currentzis did at this summit meeting between Shostakovich and Purcell. At the end there is jubilation. And the certainty that the discussion about Currentzis WILL continue. His orchestra is planning a “Tristan” with well-known German Wagner voices, including Matthias Goerne, to be played in Russia and Baden-Baden. That Currentzis turns his back on Putin’s regime is a pious wish. All that remains is to name the contradictions. After all, art is a part of life after all.
Broadcast: “Allegro” on August 18, 2022 from 6:05 a.m. on BR-KLASSIK